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Belmont Win Golden for Afleet Alex, Trainer Says

June 13, 2005|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

ELMONT, N.Y. — On the sunny morning after Afleet Alex's runaway win in the Belmont Stakes, trainer Tim Ritchey estimated that the colt was worth more than $25 million.

"He was worth $20 million to $25 million before the Belmont," Ritchey said Sunday. "And his price ought to go up dramatically the way he won the Belmont."

But Ritchey said Afleet Alex's five owners, who are from the Philadelphia area, are adamant about racing the horse through 2006. Racing, which is desperate for equine stars, took a hit a year ago when the owners of Smarty Jones retired the horse, who had what was described as a minor injury, after the Belmont because of a lucrative stud offer.

Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex won two-thirds of the Triple Crown, which hasn't been swept since Affirmed did it in 1978. Smarty Jones won the first two legs, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and Afleet Alex won the last two, the Preakness and the Belmont, after finishing third in the Derby.

"He's healthy and he's sound, and he'll run as a 4-year-old," Ritchey said of Afleet Alex, whose winning margin in the Belmont of seven lengths was the second-largest in the last 15 years. Since 1991, the only easier winner was Point Given, a 12 1/4 -length winner in 2001.

Ritchey said that at least 15 breeding farms have inquired about Afleet Alex. He said that if an interest were sold in the horse, it would be for breeding purposes only and would not interfere with his racing plans. Kentucky breeding farms, however, usually are reluctant to allow a horse to race very long after they have sewn up a stallion. There is always the chance of injury, and insurance costs are steep.

"Whatever Tim says, goes," said Robert Brittingham, one of Afleet Alex's owners.

What Ritchey is saying now is that the Haskell Handicap, at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J., on Aug. 7, is on Afleet Alex's schedule. After that could come the Travers at Saratoga and the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La.

"You can't get too far ahead in this business," Ritchey said. "But those are the possibilities. The first two are $1-million races, and the third is worth $750,000. The owners are having the time of their lives and want to continue enjoying this horse."

Ritchey eventually would like to try Afleet Alex on grass, but probably not until next year.

"If he did well on that surface, that would make him even more valuable as a stallion," the trainer said. "The owners of every type of mare would be anxious to breed to him."

Trainer Wayne Lukas, whose A.P. Arrow finished fifth in the Belmont, discussed how valuable Consolidator became as a sire. Consolidator, who is owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis of Newport Beach, was retired after injuring an ankle a few days before the Kentucky Derby.

"The way it worked is 16 farms put in blind bids, in sealed envelopes," Lukas said. Darley at Jonabell Farm in Lexington, Ky., "had the highest bid. I won't tell how much money it was, but it was mind-boggling."

Giacomo, the Derby winner who was third in the Preakness and seventh in the Belmont, will get a rest, trainer John Shirreffs said. The colt suffered a displaced palate, which impaired his breathing, in the Belmont.

Trainer Nick Zito, who ran 11 horses in the Triple Crown and finished second with Andromeda's Hero in the Belmont and fourth with Sun King, said that all of his 3-year-olds would be primed for the second half of the year. Zito expects to have at least one starter in the Haskell.

Zito's best 3-year-old is still considered to be Bellamy Road, the Wood Memorial winner who ran seventh in the Derby. Bellamy Road, who is owned by George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees, is recovering from a splint-bone injury and will be jogging as he resumes training in perhaps three weeks.

"I still think he's an exceptional horse," Zito said. "There's no timetable. I'm taking my time with him because he's such a good horse. He's such a good athlete that it shouldn't take that long to get him ready."

Noble Causeway, a Zito trainee who finished second to stablemate High Fly in the Florida Derby before running 15th in the Kentucky Derby and sixth in the Preakness, had a tough campaign even before the Triple Crown began. Because of the reconfiguration of Gulfstream Park, where the 1 1/8 -mile Florida Derby is run, the prep races for that stake were also at 1 1/8 miles. Noble Causeway ran in all three, and Zito thought that hurt the colt in the Triple Crown.

"Three races at 1 1/8 miles -- in retrospect that was too much for the horse," Zito said. "It was ridiculous that that's what the program was down there, but when you're stabled there and need to run your horse, what can you do? Tracks need to know that the well-being of the horses means more than their private agendas. I'll be back in Florida, but I won't subject my horses to that kind of schedule next year. We'll ship out of town to run if we have to."

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